I'm a pruned plant. I hate it and want it at the same time.
There are seasons of life that take our breath away. I don’t mean in a wonderstruck or captivating way. They snatch up our attention, but it's not pleasant. I feel as though I’m being wrung out. That may be the best image I can use. Squeezing out the worst of me. At times I have been caught off guard, other times it’s a slow boil. Either way, something is being eradicated that needs to be gone.
Learning, and continuing to learn the disciplines of sitting still, listening and self-reflecting, I can name you a few things that need to be extracted from me: defensiveness, envy, insecurity the drives me to please those around me, negativity, and the want to escape hard things. There are also thorns in me I am blind to. My close friends and family may see them; at moments I can feel the affects of them, but God is acutely aware of these covert entanglements. These severe mercies come to twist the darkness out of me. His motivation is propelled by his love to free me from their slow suffocation. I have felt them nearly choke me at times.
The first few weeks of spring speak to us in metaphors. As I write this I’m on my back porch scanning the explosion of blooms in my husband’s own Longwood Gardens. A few particular plants tutor me about pruning. There is a raw, one-of-a-kind beauty that welcomes us out of the dead winter. The trimmed back bushes hacked off and awkward birth tiny green leaves.They sprout as if glued on the tops of upright sticks. Small signs of life alert us to the glory coming. Freshly painted watercolor covers the whole yard and these shoots are ready to show off. But for now, they are small and disproportionate with the rest of the bush. This is my own process. Trim me back, cut off the parts that are no longer healthy, the unwieldy branches that have grown out of range taking over the yard. Lord help me, I need some pruning; I need order, internal peace and boundaries.
One thing I have learned about suffering is that I can absolutely hate it (at times really despise it) and somehow value it at the same time. Value it, not like it. Value it, not want it. Value it, not enjoy it. These two realities co-exist. For those of us who have studied the Scriptures we can sometimes get sideways with the lie that we should never be angry, disappointed, or undone in sadness…instead, “Have faith, and trust in God.”Such non-biblical lingo has done much damage to the limping ones, or those who can only crawl because the weight of pain keeps them from standing. We must get through the winter, the wringing out, in order for the divine qualities of God to start budding out of the pruned places. It is stunting our growth to pretend we never hurt. In the end, I want this operation. I don’t want to be overtaken by the dark qualities in me. Furthermore, I am quite sure everyone else in my life wants this work done on me too.
There is a phrase that has become dear to me in times like these and bolstered my trust in the good work that is ultimately taking place, the work that WILL be completed:
“It is always darkest before the dawn.”
The older I get, the more I recognize this pattern. Something always blooms. I don’t know when and I definitely don’t know how, but it does. Easter is the season which highlights this like no other time. Good Friday bids us reflect on the lonely, painful, isolating, pitch-black walk of Christ to his death. And though fully God, he felt every single emotion. The nerve-shattering pain, the sorrow, fear and temptation to give up were all palpable. The oppression he experienced was everything hard we have ever felt in our lives, and far more. He understands intense torture. But he didn’t leave it to end there. He doesn’t leave us there. The resurrection power that delivered life and breath and glory to his dead bones is ours too. Light coming out after such starless dark. It’s a promise.
And the greatest hope, and the one we forget to sing about, is that one day, hopefully soon, the sky will split open and the New Earth will come, bright with light, full with healing. There will be no more darkness because he will be our light. Revelation says so:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month…[We] will see his face, and his name will be on [our] foreheads. There will be no more night. [We] will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give [us] light. And [we] will reign for ever and ever.
In the meantime, as we wait, and as we are wrung out, we can be confident a light will dawn inside of us. A pure light to chase away the darkness a little at at time. As far as the process, I can hate it and value it at the same time. So can you.